For most of us, the email inbox is the digital storage locker of our life.
It certainly is where we have most of our business communication, but that’s just the beginning.
Email is also where we store our digital tokens of life. We store our holiday itineraries, boarding passes, concert tickets, the receipt and warranty for the laptop we bought years ago, and sometimes even photos of families and friends so that we don’t misplace them.
Communication within workplaces has evolved significantly, and sure, we now have multiple platforms available. WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Deel, Asana, Trello, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Telegram, LinkedIn… they all do the same thing: help us communicate. But even then, there’s a need to collate those notifications from various apps in one place, and the email inbox is what does that.
When people ask him if he’s out to “kill email,” the CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield, admits he’s not – his vision, rather, is to create an “improvisational jam session with the whole world.”
Email isn’t going anywhere. Decades after its advent, it remains the unchallenged form of formal communication. Data shows that on average, we receive 121 emails every day, and spend 28% of our workweek managing email. And of the 5 billion people worldwide who use the internet, 4 billion (or half the human population) are email users.
Email has been around for 30 years. It isn’t dead. It isn’t going to die. That’s not to say there aren’t serious challenges (and correspondingly, significant opportunities) to take the email service to the next level.
The future of email can be very promising if we can get on the right side of the wave of change. For starters, there’s too much email to keep on top of. 80% of the emails sent today aren’t coming from a person, but are either spam, receipts, notifications, newsletters, or something else. Customer data is a sellable commodity, and ad targeting via email has become commonplace for major email services. 84% people say they are concerned about data privacy, security, and digital identity. GoDaddy reports that 1 in 5 millennials select their baby’s names after checking available domain names; it seems many of us want but are unable to get personal domain names online.
What does the fast-approaching future of email look like?
The first two decades of email saw carriers, and subsequently independent players (Yahoo, Hotmail / Outlook, Gmail) dominate the landscape. Here are 9 observations on what the next decade could bring, and the opportunities we see for carriers.
- Tailored, chargeable storage solutions – Many consumers are now prepared to pay for account upgrades, and storage is probably at the head of that list. Email can be made profitable in a way that benefits service providers and consumers alike. Currently, most telco and internet service provider email services are free, with a standard one-size-fits-all approach. Such providers stand to gain from establishing more control and improving their services. Setting a range of offerings with the right storage thresholds and pricing (based on how many and how much consumers will likely pay), supported by one click billing integration, can help turn email into a paid, premium offering.
- ‘Personalized’ spam – According to some experts, the future of email entails completely automated, personalized messages based on analysis of consumer data (made possible by AI). Dynamic, segmented marketing emails have been found to get a 22% higher ROI. No more hitting ‘send’ to the masses, or vice-versa, receiving irrelevant email blasts. Protect your users, and they will be willing to pay for the service – their identity is becoming valued.
- Richer content – We can expect to see better storytelling and more user-generated content in emails in order to make them more engaging. Emails are likely to become more visual / animated and interactive (with features such as surveys or commenting options). They will become more engaging, and users will be expected to be engaged! But more importantly, they want to be engaged with content that makes sense to them, not some generic ‘catch all’.
- More cross channel integration and smarter promotion – Today, advertising takes up valuable real estate on an email service. Internet service providers who take their customer data integration seriously can raise the bar for their promotions. Instead of placing generic ads, this space can be used for smarter partner promotions and cross sells, based on what would be helpful for the consumer. Paid removal can be another premium feature that some consumers might be willing to subscribe to, and that email service providers can benefit from. What’s worth more to you, getting a few cents from someone viewing and ad from a generic online advertiser, or rather selling a bunch of new handsets or wifi routers?
- More regulation on consumer data privacy – Ultimately, we as consumers should get to decide what details about ourselves businesses can and cannot access – and this does not need to spell the end of email marketing. Europe’s privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is addressing customer concerns over data privacy, and the ePrivacy Regulation proposal aims to further reinforce trust and security, particularly in electronic communication-related privacy. Contrary to the expected negative impact from increasing regulation, 76% marketers have cited an increase in email open rates after the implementation of the GDPR. How are you positioned to comply with all the new regulations?
- More encryption, more security, more authentication – End to end encryption technology might be currently difficult and scarcely applied, but is likely to add to email inbox security in the future. It’s entirely possible that passwords will become a thing of the past with biometric security and device-based authentication. Secure, private email is beginning to garner both consumer popularity and business success.
- Intelligent / AI-assisted email – Gmail began helping us write emails with spell check, and now makes up sentences for the whole email body. Other AI writers on the market, such as 2-year-old Flowrite, turn bullet points into ready-to-send emails, for ~$10 a month.
- Digital identity – Web3 is grounded in authentic expression, and our reliance on digital identity will increase in the years to come. Even today, most internet transactions require validation of personal identity via an email ID, and email could evolve into a type of digital social security ID. Personal domain names have a lot of potential. 2 million Ethereum Name Service (ENS) domain names have already been registered. Even without going into the blockchain-based iteration of the web, the demand for domains does not seem to be subsiding. In just one month in 2021, GoDaddy registered more domains than it had ever done before. Email service providers can benefit from thinking long term and bundling in family name or personal name domain offerings for their consumers.
- Better UX – Lastly, we’re likely to see better designs in email interfaces in the future. Providers could work more in tandem with builders and editors on design options or editing software such as ‘What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get’ programs for email templates.
We have seen email adapt and evolve since the time Raymond Tomlinson put the “@” and send himself a test email that read “QWERTYIOP,” to the first email sent with an attachment in 1992, to emails on Blackberrys in 2003, to 145 billion spam messages sent daily last year.
As our needs and expectations as consumers evolve, businesses that aggressively change the way they think about email have a lot to gain; the near future will see the email possibly transition from an expense to a profit avenue, from generic to personalized, from mundane to intelligent, from static to engaging, from public to private, and from free to premium.